Managing the eye rolls at the lunch table

Consider this scenario. You are sitting at lunch at work, and one of your co-workers starts either a) telling a story you've already heard, b) telling a story containing an opinion you think is ridiculous, or c) telling a story and blowing something way out of proportion. Maybe all three!


Your reaction, and one my 7 year old knows quite well, is the eye roll.


The eye roll is so ingrained in our behavior we can engage in the eye roll even without knowing we are doing it. Unfortunately, the eye roll (and other nonverbal behavior) can and does get picked up by others. With the eye roll you may be communicating that you don't care about the storyteller's opinions, ideas, or perhaps even the storyteller themself.


You might think this is the storyteller's problem. That the storyteller should better understand how they are being perceived by others and that they should stop. Perhaps you think the eye roll is a good thing - that the eye roll is a subtle, effective (passive aggressive!) way to communicate to the storyteller to quit it on the storytelling.


Nonverbal behavior matters, and in many ways it matters more than verbal behavior. When you dismiss someone through your nonverbal behavior, they can feel demoralized and defeated, especially if you are in a position of power. Nonverbal behavior communicates automatically what you think and feel, thus, even if you back up the eye roll with questions or engagement, the "damage" may have already been done.


Your solution: anticipate the eye roll.


If you are paying attention, you will know within the first couple of words how you are going to react to the storyteller. Rather than rolling your eyes, lean in. Ask questions you haven't asked before. If they are opinions you disagree with, engage in a healthy debate about those questions. If others roll their eyes, call out the behavior and ask them to provide evidence of their opinion. This changes the lunch table culture from (perceived to be annoying) storyteller plus a bunch of conflict avoiders to engaged colleagues willing to challenge and debate each other.


This is what healthy high-quality connections look like. Not colleagues who roll their eyes and then talk about each behind their backs, but colleagues who will seek to engage, help, question, and listen to their colleagues.


Have a good lunch!

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